Kia vehicles have always been known for being an appliance – something practical and smart with a good warranty and price tag. But they’ve never had much personality, which makes them all but invisible to enthusiasts and youngsters. Kia intends to change that with the all-new Soul – a direct competitor to the Scion line-up that appeals to young buyers with its hip and cool image, while not straying far from typical Kia value and sensibleness.
Can they pull it off? Can a brand new model from the King of Boring compete with the likes of Scion, who’s been building the “young and hip” brand image for years? We test a 2010 Kia Soul Sport to find out…
We Have to Talk About the Design
The first thing you notice about the new Kia Soul is its…ahem…interesting looks. Funky and a bit awkward, the look appeals to a lot of people, based on the many comments and looks we received while driving about. To accentuate the strange styling, the 2010 Soul comes in your choice of eight strangely named colors, such as Alien (light green,) Molten (red,) Java (greenish brown,) or Dune (a tannish-beige.) Our Soul’s paint was called Shadow; black to the rest of us.
Each trim level comes with a different interior scheme. The Sport trim, which we drove, has an attractive red and black cloth combo which is appropriate for a sport-minded buyer. Other interior/trim combos include a fairly ugly Houndstooth cloth and beige accents for the “!” trim, and a cool “Soul” branded cloth and black trim for the “+” model. Yes, those symbols are actually the model names. Overall, the interior is very attractive, but is made from the hard plastic you’d expect from such an inexpensive car. The modern interior design will attract the type of buyer they’re trying to snag.
Driving the 2010 Kia Soul was what you’d expect, but lacked any sort of excitement. The 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine lacked any sense of urgency, and power was completely absent above 3rd gear. I couldn’t imagine how the 1.6-liter equipped in the Base model would move. Despite the lack of power, it’s not a complete bore to drive. While the seats are mostly unsupportive in turns, they’re relatively comfortable. I was impressed by the responsive and communicative steering in the Soul, but the excessive body roll stopped you from having too much fun.
The sport-tuned suspension and front stabilizer bar in our Sport model made the ride slightly rough at times, but still felt like it would tip over if you took the round-about a smidgen too fast. The worst driving aspect of the Kia Soul was the transmission. The 5-speed manual is sloppy, to put it nicely. The gears felt undefined, and I can’t count how many times I missed 3rd gear. Once I did find it, I had to slam the stick to get it into gear. The transmission felt broken.
Where the 2010 Kia Soul will really stand apart from the rest is in the features. Standard equipment is relatively generous – ABS, stability control, two-tone interiors (all expect base model,) and a USB/aux audio jack. The media equipment is just right for the buyers of this car, as it gives you options. You can plug in any MP3 player via the aux jack, any storage device through the USB jack, and it includes iPod integration using a special cable that takes both the aux and USB.
The Soul also has two 12V power outlets, which means they understand that buyers now have multiple devices that need to be charged simultaneously, such as iPod and GPS. Bluetooth, sunroof, and an upgraded sound system are optional, as is the cool red neon speakers that light up to the beat of the music. That feature is neat, but only worked some of the time for us.
Many of the Soul’s features are unavailable on the base trim level, and it only gets a crappy 1.6-liter engine, boring interior, and only 3 exterior color choices. Quit being such a cheapskate and at least get the “+” model.
Overall, I think the 2010 Kia Soul is a step in the right direction for the Korean brand to redefine themselves as a less boring vehicle, and opening themselves up to a bigger market. It’s a great value, but still has some work to do if it wants to compete with the (bigger) Scion xD, (weirder) Nissan Cube, and (smaller) Honda Fit, but it does give customers of this segment another choice, and isn’t that what this type of vehicle is all about?
2010 Kia Soul Sport
As tested: $18,345
Starts at: $13,300